I’m sure somebody brilliant can, but what about the average, competent wordsmith?
Though I’m a business writer by profession, I consider myself a novelist for no good reason other than the novel is my preferred vehicle for storytelling. 80,000 words feels about right for saying what I want to say. Still, I’ve dabbled in short fiction, usually ending up with unwieldy pieces that are too long for literary rags but too short for standalone publication.
Over the past several months, I’ve been intermittently digging old stories from the vaults (otherwise known as my hard drive) and rereading them. Most were written 5-6 years ago, with periodic revision since.
My first conclusion: I’m not sure I understand the short story as an art form. What makes a short story “good”? How much stuff needs to happen for it to qualify as a story and not a vignette? What does a character arc look like when you only have 4000 words to play with? Why can’t anyone in the Galactic Republic program R2D2 to speak English? It can’t require more than a few megabytes of memory.
I’ve tossed some of these stories in the direction of different beta readers to get some general opinions, which have ranged from “I was hooked from the first word” to “Burn it.” Which shows the limitations of getting feedback from a statistically insignificant number of readers, but that’s a different post. What I discovered is that people don’t like when you experiment with different voices and writing styles. I thought freedom was the cool part about writing short fiction, but that may not translate into enjoyment for the reader.
My second conclusion: I am not engaging in further revisions or seeking publication for any of these stories. Aside from a few flash pieces, I have only written one short story in the past 3 years, and, in comparing it to the earlier ones, it blows them away. Perhaps I’ve improved too much to feel these old stories represent me as a writer anymore. I hope that’s the case.
The point of all this is I am going to serialize at least one of the stories here, and maybe more. Some of you may remember I already did that with one of my old pieces, The Last Stop (which I’ve just pasted in its entirety under the “Fiction” tab above, if you want to check it out). In terms of blog traffic, I was quite pleasantly surprised at the response to my serialization.
So, starting tomorrow, I’ll begin serializing another of my malformed progeny, On the Way to My Grave, featuring yet another unlikable protagonist! I must have been going through a phase.
With Thanksgiving next week, I will post fewer, slightly longer segments—compared to last time—to get it done before the holiday. You are welcome to critique, destroy, hate on, or respond as you otherwise please in the comments. I shan’t be revising the tale further.